Report: After Michigan FOIAs, Wayne State Takes Down Labor Studies Website

Mackinac Center in Midland, MI and Wayne State University inset (Detroit, MI)
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It looks like conservative-leaning Mackinac Center For Public Policy think tank drew first blood in the battle over labor studies and academic freedom in Michigan.

As Wayne State University considers what to do about the Freedom Of Information Act requests Mackinac sent over last month, lawyers at the school have ordered parts of the Labor Studies Center website shut down over concerns from Mackinac that they violate rules against political advocacy with state resources.

The Michigan Information and Research Service News Service reports (sub req’d) that Wayne has pulled down parts of its labor studies dept website while they’re “under review by the university’s general counsel to make sure they are not running afoul of state law.”

The site changes were a direct result of Mackinac’s inquiries into the department, including the FOIA requests for faculty and staff emails discussing the labor fight in Wisconsin and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, MIRS News reports. On Makinac’s investigative journalism website Michigan Capitol Confidential, Ken Braun explained why he FOIA’d the labor faculty at Wayne State (as well as Michigan State and the University of Michigan), pointing to portions of the Wayne State site he said were clearly advocating political outcomes rather than education.

From MIRS News:

By the time the Capitol Confidential published its story about WSU’s Labor Studies Center, the university had taken down a link to a free “activists handbook” for those looking for a “nuts and bolts guide” for creating a living wage campaign, a page dedicated to passing the federal “card check” and a specific manual for public employee unions trying to “defeat privatization.”

Mackinac and Wayne State’s labor studies faculty have been at war since at least 2005, when the state Chamber of Commerce called for and got the school to shut down a student-run site advocating for a higher minimum wage. More on that in here.

Wayne State did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the MIRS NEWS report from TPM. But the school told MIRS that the changes to website didn’t mean Mackinac was right about the the labor studies department.

“We don’t think that having labor or unions listed on a website is an advocacy point,
even though the unions, obviously, are very active these days,” a spokesperson said. “That’s not the issue. The question is whether or not there’s a violation of campaign finance laws given the content on the website.”

On the Capitol Confidential site Thursday morning, Braun took a victory lap and called on the state government to formally investigate Wayne’s Labor Studies Center.

“It has taken more than a year of us and others asking if they were doing something wrong for them to start asking that question of themselves,” Braun told a Capitol Confidential reporter. “What the taxpayers deserve now is an outside authority with subpoena power asking questions and demanding answers regarding what this department has been doing all along.”

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